Lynda Benglis

Irish Museum of Modern Art 

November 4, 2009 – January 24, 2010

The first solo exhibition in Europe of the American sculptor Lynda Benglis, best known for her ground-breaking work challenging accepted artistic norms through a pioneering merging of content and form. Comprising works from the 1960s to date, Lynda Benglis highlights the artist’s extraordinary creative output, which has defied prevailing views on the nature and function of art over 40 years. The exhibition is organised by IMMA in collaboration with museums in the Netherlands, France and the USA.

Lynda Benglis focuses on the way in which the artist’s interest in process has led her to expand the possibilities of material from latex pourings and expansions to more precious materials such as glass and gold. Taking the body and landscape as prime references, she creates abstract works that oozes immediacy and physicality. Many appear to a defy gravity, being famously described as ‘frozen gestures’. Her interest in process first manifested itself in her early wax reliefs, created by applying one layer of wax on top of another, building up a geological landscape in such works as Cacoon,1971. Materials are also at the core of Benglis’s ‘Fallen Paintings’, such as Blatt, 1969, in which liquids, including rubber latex or polyurethane foam, are poured directly onto the floor and against the wall.

In the 1970s she created a series of metallised and sparkling ‘Knots’, such as the glittering wall sculpture Psi, 1973. Looped and tied with her own physical force, they also serve Benglis’s wider purpose of disrupting the male-dominated worlds of Modernist and Minimalist art. In 1989, she described society’s attitude to matters of good and bad taste: “There will always be a Puritan strain in society that gets nervous if things are too pleasurable, too beautiful or too open. That’s the most significant legacy of feminist art; it taught us not to be afraid to express these things.”

The exhibition includes a number of the artist’s well known video works, many toying with the recurring theme of gender politics. Videos such as Now, 1973, and Female Sensibility, 1973, capture and mock the sexual prejudices of the times as well as breaking new ground in terms of early video and documentary-making techniques. Other notable works include Wing, 1970, an incarnation of one of her cantilevered sculptures, and the 1975 installation Primary Structures (Paula’s Props). Benglis’s metalised ‘Pleats’ sculptures of the 1980s and ‘90s and her more recent works in polyurethane, such as The Graces, 2003-05, and Chiron, 2009, are also being shown.

The exhibition also presents documentary material outlining the artist’s statements and photographic gestures: ‘The Sexual Mockeries’ series. Benglis used media to control her image and highlight and challenge gender imbalances and power struggles. Her most famous and explicit gesture, in Artforum magazine in November 1974, created a long-running controversy in the American art world. This was part of a series that began at the same time as she worked on videos and famously collaborated with Robert Morris.

A new work, North South East West , 2009, taking the form of  a cast bronze fountain, will be shown for the first time  in the Formal Gardens at IMMA. The artist has been developing the idea of this hydraulic sculpture since her extraordinary cantilevered installations of the early 1970s, now mostly destroyed. Her first fountainThe Wave (The Wave of the World), 1983, was created for the World Fair in New Orleans.